Chapter Six is here! I've been wanting to write a song for the Sorting Hat for ages, and now was my chance. Hope I managed to capture the tone and feel of the Hat songs without completely rehashing the canon ones.


WEASLEY GIRL: SECRETS OF THE PAST

Based on the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling


CHAPTER SIX
New Students and New Teachers


Someone or something was prodding her face...

Ronnie opened her eyes and looked into the orange face of Crookshanks, who was standing on her lap and poking her face with his paw. He looked oddly dishevelled, with his fur more rumpled and mangy than usual, as if he had been in a fight of some kind.

"Okay, okay, I'm up," she murmured, grunting and stretching herself. She felt slightly icky after having slept in her clothes and in a less-than-comfortable train seat...

...wait. She didn't remember going to sleep.

Looking out of the window, she saw that it was dark outside, which it definitely hadn't been the last time she checked. The compartment was eerily quiet, which wasn't such a surprise considering that Luna, Neville and Hermione were all asleep as well. Luna hadn't moved at all since she'd closed her eyes earlier, and Neville and Hermione were slumped against one another, breathing softly.

The animals were awake, however; Trevor had hopped up on the seat beside Ronnie, and Hedwig was perched on the armrest and peering at Ronnie. Like Crookshanks, she looked a little dishevelled, but none the worse for wear.

"What happened with you two?" said Ronnie. "Did you have a fight or something?"

Owl and cat both stared at her, and she got the odd feeling that they thought she'd said something phenomenally stupid.

Just then, however, a voice called out: "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately."

That gave her a start. She'd slept through nearly the entire train ride - and so, apparently, had the others. Hurriedly lifting Crookshanks off her, she raised herself to nudge Hermione and Neville. "Hey! Wake up! We're almost there!"

They both sighed and grunted sleepily as they woke up - and then they realised they were leaning against one another, whereupon they hurriedly pulled apart, Neville blushing furiously.

"I... suppose we must have fallen asleep," Hermione murmured. "Bother." She blinked and looked at Ronnie. "Haven't you better get into your school robes right away?"

"School -" Ronnie realised she was still wearing her Muggle shirt and jeans. "Bugger! Robes, where are my robes? Luna - Luna, wake up!"

Luna, still wearing that very loud purple dress and not at all in her school robes, shifted in her sleep and murmured softly: "Don't be silly... it's just a Blibbering Humdinger trying to trick you."

Whatever she was dreaming about, Ronnie didn't know, but it was probably something weird and Luna-ish. There wasn't time for dreams now, though, so Ronnie gently shook her. "Come on, Luna, time to leave the Humming Bliggerdings behind and change into your robes!"

Luna yawned, opening her eyes and looking at Ronnie. "Robes?" she said sleepily.

"Yes, robes! You did pack your school robes, didn't you?"

Luna blinked a couple of times, focus returning to her eyes. "Yes, they're in my trunk," she said. "Underneath all my other things."

"Underneath -" Ronnie groaned. "Luna, it's only a couple of minutes until we reach the station! We don't have time to dig out your robes now!"

Hemione, ever the practical one, had opened Ronnie's trunk with a well-placed Alohamora and pulled out a pair of black robes, which she carried over to Ronnie. "We don't have time to delay any more either," she said. "Here are your robes, Ronnie, just put them on over your clothes like you did last year. Luna, here, Ronnie will lend you one of her spares."

"Oh, she will, will she?" said Ronnie sarcastically - but then changed her mind. In her own bossy way Hermione was right; Luna needed robes and they had no time to open any more trunks to find anyone else's. "All right, yeah. Thanks, Hermione."

Of course, Ronnie's robes were much too big for Luna, even if she were putting them on over her loud purple dress, and she had to lift them up so they wouldn't drag against the ground when she walked, but at least it was better than arriving at Hogwarts with no robes at all.

"Better hurry," said Neville nervously, staring out of the window. "Here comes the station."

Ronnie pulled her own robes over her head. No time to make herself look smart, she'd just have to make do with - she stiffened. Her hand had brushed against her hip and felt something horrible. Or rather, it was the lack of something that was horrible: She was supposed to have felt the hard contours of Tom Riddle's diary in her pocket, but she hadn't.

Feeling a surge of panic, she patted her pockets on both sides. No diary.

But - it had been there before! She'd had it before she fell asleep! Hadn't she?!

She barely noticed that the train come to a halt. She began searching her robe pockets as well, even though the diary couldn't possibly be in them, as she looked down on the floor to see if she could see the little book lying there. But no. She dropped to her knees and began looking in under the seats. Maybe it had fallen down, somehow, while she slept -

"Ronnie?" Neville's voice sounded concerned.

"The diary!" Ronnie swallowed several times to bite back the urge to scream and cry.

"I - didn't know you kept a diary." said Neville.

"I don't! Crookshanks!" Ronnie squeaked, turning to her cat, who was still on the seat next to her. "Dear Crookshanks! Please, please, please find the diary for me!"

Crookshanks gave her a look that better than words said: Are you joking? And then, to demonstrate that he had no intention of looking for any diaries he sat down on his haunches and began nonchalantly licking his paw.

Ronnie was about to start pleading, but she saw that it wouldn't have any effect. Cats could be infuriatingly stubborn, and - come to think of it, maybe Kneazles could only find lost people or places, not objects.

"Ronnie, what is going on?" Hermione snapped. "The train's stopped, we have to get off!"

Finally, with a sinking feeling in her heart but realising that there wasn't much she could do, Ronnie let herself be talked into leaving the compartment with the others. Leaving the luggage behind, but Hedwig flapped up to perch on her shoulder and Crookshanks was following her closely, even as she left the train, following Hermione.

Outside it was cold and dark; quite a difference from the warm, cosy train - and students were milling about on the platform, and the cry of "Firs' years! - Firs' years over here!" from up front signalled that Hagrid was there, ready to take the first-years to Hogwarts via the "scenic route," i.e. a boat trip over the lake. Ronnie remembered her first year and the spectacular view of the castle as it showed up, but had no idea how second-years and beyond got to the school.

But then, out of the crowd came Harry and Ginny, and Ronnie's worry over the diary was momentarily replaced by relief that her sister and best friend were here and safe.

"Harry! Ginny!" She flung herself against the two and pulled them both into the tightest hug she could, causing Hedwig to flap her wings on her shoulder to keep balance. "You made it!"

"Hi, Ronnie - Hi, Hermione, Neville, great to see you again!" said Harry. "Yeah, we took something called the Knight Bus. Worst trip I ever had. Don't know where the driver got his certificate, but whoever told him he was good to go out in traffic ought to be locked up."

"I liked it!" said Ginny, and then pulled Ronnie close to whisper to her. "Harry fell against me three times and I didn't lose my voice even once!"

"Nice!" said Ronnie, grinning - good to know that all that time she'd spent working on Ginny's crippling shyness around Harry hadn't been wasted - but then she remembered the seriousness of the situation. "Ginny, Tom Riddle's diary is gone!"

"What?!" Ginny hissed, forgetting her pride. "But you had it! I saw you put it in your pocket!"

"I know, but I fell asleep on the train, and when I woke up -" Ronnie felt her heart almost stop beating as the realisation hit her like a bucket of cold water. "Fuck!"

"Language, Ronnie!" Hermione scolded, pulling back from the hug she was giving Harry.

Ronnie ignored this. "Someone must've come into our compartment while we slept and stolen it!" She felt her skin crawl, and her thoughts went almost immediately to the Trolls. They'd been in the compartment. Had they noticed something and somehow cast a spell so everyone fell asleep, and then sneaked in to steal the diary? The thought of Malfoy - or worse, Crabbe or Goyle - rummaging through her pockets while she was asleep and unable to defend herself made her feel nauseous.

Harry, Neville, Hermione and Luna were watching her in confusion and concern.

"What are you talking about?" said Harry...

...and Ronnie suddenly wished that she and Ginny had told him about the diary from the start. Why hadn't they told him? Some weird sense that she was protecting him against unknown dangers that Tom Riddle represented? How stupid was it possible to get?

"It's - a diary that - I have to talk to Dumbledore!" she sputtered.

It was then Neville stepped up and gently but firmly grabbed her shoulder. "Ronnie. Breathe."

She did, taking several deep breaths. The strange part was that she did feel a little calmer. She had no idea why Neville, of all people, was suddenly a calming presence, but he did seem to be.

"Is it a matter of life or death?" said Neville, sounding as though he was perfectly ready to believe that it might be.

"I - don't think so."

"Then talk to Dumbledore after the welcoming feast. He'll be busy right now, but after the feast he'll probably be able to make time."

Ronnie nodded, reluctantly. Neville was right, of course he was right. If someone had stolen the diary, there was nothing she could do about it this very minute, and besides it would probably take at least some time for Tom to start trusting someone new with those "powerful secrets" he'd kept hinting at? Right?


The Great Hall was just as grand as Ronnie remembered it from last year, and the tables just as filled with the low buzz of "conversing" students, as everyone was waiting for the first-years to arrive. Ronnie was at the Gryffindor table together with the rest of Potter's Gang (Hermione sitting next to her and Harry and Neville sitting opposite them), and her brothers close by, and a number of old familiar Gryffindors were all around them, joking and laughing - and quite a few, especially the girls, were casting glances over at the staff table where the teachers sat, looking at one man in particular.

Gilderoy Lockhart was sitting next to Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy teacher, who seemed to be uncharacteristically giggly as he talked to her. Occasionally he'd look over at the students and flash one of his brilliant smiles to them, wich caused quite a few sighs and blushed cheeks. Even Hermione was blushing furiously after Lockhart had smiled at her, though Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil (who were sitting close to Hermione) were giggling because they were insisting he'd smiled at them.

If the case with the lost diary hadn't already ruined Ronnie's appetite for the upcoming feast, this most definitely would have. Was she the only girl in the entire world who didn't spend her time swooning or blushing or giggling over some bloke or other?

More interesting, in Ronnie's opinion, was the other new face at the high table, who was sitting next to, and chatting animatedly with, Dumbledore. He was an old man, at least his hair and beard were white, but there was something handsome and, well, slightly prissy about him all the same. Not like Lockhart, who seemed to be going for a perfect appearance, but this man did have a very well-groomed beard and was wearing rather striking green robes with gold embroideries. This had to be the new Potions master, since Snape had resigned from that position last year.

"Who d'you suppose that is?" said Neville, who had also noticed the man.

"A friend of Dumbledore's, I think," said Harry. "Hagrid said something about it when Ginny and I arrived, but he didn't say his name."

"He looks more pleasant than Snape, at any rate," said Ronnie, and would have gone on to say more, but just then the doors opened, and silence fell as Professor McGonagall entered, followed by a long line of children. The first-years had arrived.

Ronnie didn't know any of the new kids, except of course for Ginny and Luna who were last in the line - Luna having to hitch up her much-too-large borrowed robes in order to avoid tripping on them. This earned her a few giggles and a few looks of pity from the tables around, but she didn't seem to notice.

The first-years were led to the top of the Hall where they were placed in a line to face the rest of the students, nervousness and excitement etched on their faces in roughly equal measures. Ginny looked like she felt like vomiting (probably nervous that she wouldn't get into Gryffindor) and Luna stared at everyone with her usual mad amazement.

Now, Professor McGonagall had placed a three-legged stool in front of the first-years, upon which she placed an old, torn and dirty pointed wizard hat. Everyone in the hall except for the first-years knew this hat, which was why nobody except the first-years were at all surprised when a long tear around its brim opened like a mouth, and the hat began to sing:

You may think I look ugly, but consider, if you would;
When you're a thousand years old, you won't look half as good!
I've been a part of Hogwarts school since it was almost new,
And then, as now, my task has been to sort out all of you.
The greatest wizards of our time, the humble and the small;
The thing they have in common is that I have known them all!
I peeked inside their heads and I saw what was on their mind,
And which of our four houses that to them had been assigned:

To Gryffindor, I sent the daring, chivalrous and brave,
For strength of heart and nerve is what a Gryffindor will crave.
To Slytherin, the cunning and determined would depart,
Where drive and great ambition would help them get their start,
To Ravenclaw, the thinkers, and those set out to learn,
To whom the greatest treasure was the knowledge they would earn.
And then to kindly Hufflepuff, the rest would find their way,
Where loyalty and patient toil would always win the day.

And now the turn has come to you to step up to the floor,
And follow in the footsteps of all those who went before.
Just put me on your head, and I will have a look at you;
Perhaps you'll learn some things about yourself you never knew.
There isn't much I haven't seen in minds of days gone by,
(But I've been sworn to secrecy, so please don't try to pry).
Together you and I will find out just where you belong!
And with those words, my friends, I've reached the ending of my song!

The Great Hall burst into applause.

"Not a bad song this year," said Percy. "I was hoping for one that was more about the four Founders, though, those are always fascinating."

"You mean the Hat sings a different song each year?" said Harry curiously.

"It's been around for more than a thousand years," said George. "It probably recycles them every fifty years or so. Who'd know?"

"The ghosts might," said Fred, motioning at the silvery, transparent forms of the Hogwarts ghosts, who were floating silently around the Hall, watching the new students with interest.

"Point," said George. "But they're probably too polite to say anything."

Professor McGonagall was now unrolling a large scroll of parchment, motioning for silence around the hall. "When I call out your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool,' she told the first-years. "When the hat announces your House, you will go and sit at the appropriate table.

"Adamson, Henrietta!"

A girl with curly blonde hair stepped out of the line and nervously approached the stool, picked up the Sorting Hat as if she was afraid it would burn her fingers, and then sat down, quickly placing the Hat on her head.

"HUFFLEPUFF!" the Hat called out, and Adamson, Henrietta almost flung it off herself to run up to the table where the Hufflepuffs were applauding her.

"Baker, William!"

"RAVENCLAW!"

The first Gryffindor to be sorted was "Creevey, Colin," a tiny little chap who looked like he was about to burst with excitement at any time, and who upon running up to the Gryffindor table, greeted everyone with: "Is Harry Potter here? You're Harry Potter? Hi, Harry, I'm Colin Creevey, I'm Muggle-born, but they told me so much about you - can I see your scar? Can I take a picture of you later to show my brother back home?"

He would probably have gone on like this for some time before a stern "Hrm!" from Professor McGonagall made him understand that this was probably not the best time, and hurriedly sit down so that the next person, "Cutress, Charles," could be sorted without disturbance.

The Sorting went on, and students went to all the four tables, each one being applauded by whichever house they were sorted into, and then -

"Lovegood, Luna!"

Luna almost tripped on her robes as she stepped up to the chair and looked at the crowd with her large grey eyes. Ronnie wondered if she was more nervous about the crowd or about being sorted - and then Luna turned her head towards the teacher's table and said, in a clear voice: "Professor Dumbledore, Veronica Weasley would like to talk to you about a diary."

The Great Hall exploded into laughter, and Ronnie felt herself turning pink as she hid her face in her hands to escape the many eyes turned towards her. Yes, she wanted to talk to Dumbledore, but...!

The Headmaster's voice was kindly as he said: "Thank you, Miss Lovegood, I'll be delighted to talk to Veronica Weasley later on. But this is your moment. Put the Hat on, if you would be so kind."

Luna obeyed, putting the hat on without sitting down onto the stool. And remained standing as there was a long silence.

"Think she's a Hatstall?" Lavender whispered.

"What's a Hatstall?" said Harry in a low voice.

"Someone so difficult to place that the Hat spends more than five minutes on them," Lavender explained.

"Oh." Harry, Neville and Hermione had understanding look on their faces - no wonder, Ronnie thought, because all of them had been near-Hatstalls themselves. Hermione had been under the Hat for nearly four minutes, and Harry and Neville for almost as long. Out of Potter's Gang, only Ronnie seemed to have caused no doubt whatsoever in the Hat; it had declared her a Gryffindor almost before she'd put it on.

Luna looked to be well on her way to become a Hatstall too, but after about three minutes, the Hat announced: "HUFFLEPUFF!"

Whereupon Luna removed the hat and, instead of placing it back on the stool, handed it to Professor McGonagall, and with a wave to Ginny and one to Ronnie, walked off to join the somewhat-uncertainly-applauding Hufflepuffs.

"That's odd, always thought she was a sure-in for Ravenclaw," Percy muttered as the next student ("Packwood, Isabella") was called up.

"Why? You know Hufflepuff is where the oddballs end up," said Fred with a snicker.

"No, Ravenclaws are the oddballs. Hufflepuffs are the duffers," said Lavender, and she and Parvati giggled uncontrollably all through the next two students that were sorted - especially since one of them went to Ravenclaw and the other to Hufflepuff.

Finally, as the very last student to be sorted (no first-years with surnames that began with X, Y or Z this year, apparently) McGonagall called out "Weasley, Ginevra!"

Ginny looked very alone up there as she sat down on the stool. Looking at Ronnie for the briefest of moments, she closed her eyes tightly and pulled the Hat onto her head.

Ronnie leaned forward to look. So did Fred, George and Percy. And she knew, as certainly as if she'd asked them, that they had the same intense thought running through their heads: Please be in Gryffindor, please be in Gryffindor...

"GRYFFINDOR!" the Hat shouted.

The Gryffindor table burst into applause, with Weasleys and Potter's Gang clapping harder than anyone else.

"Excellent, Ginny, well done!" said Percy with his trademark pompousness as Ginny sat down with the rest of them, and Dumbledore raised himself and called for silence.

"It's tradition for the Headmaster to make a little speech before the welcoming feast," he said (and Ronnie could see a couple of the first-years stiffen, obviously preparing for a long and boring speech), "so here it is: Welcome to Hogwarts, and enjoy the feast! Thank you!" With that he sat back down, and the food appeared on the tables.

While food was always plentiful at Hogwarts, the welcoming feast was always spectacular, and it didn't seem to have got any less extravagant since last year; all kinds of delicious foods were there for the taking, there was steak and chicken and fish and lamb, potatoes of all kinds, vegetables, rice, stews and pies; no matter how picky or how allergic someone was, they'd find something to enjoy here... and Ronnie had absolutely no appetite.

While everyone else ate heartily, she just picked at her food. The excitement about the Sorting over and done with, the thoughts about the diary were back, and the disgusting thought that someone might have been rummaging through her pockets while she was asleep. She couldn't quite put into words why this made her feel so awful, but it was just... eww. In fact, the only thing she could think of that made her feel worse was -

No! she scolded herself. Not the Imperius! I'm feeling lousy enough if I'm not gonna start thinking about that as well!

To her annoyance, everyone around her - and not just her family and Potter's Gang - were looking at her with concern.

"What?!" she finally snapped.

"You're not eating," said George, looking at her with concern - for once not hidden behind a ton of jokes. "You feeling well?"

She felt all the worried eyes on her - not only Percy, Fred and George, not only Harry, Hermione and Neville, but even her fellow second-year Gryffindors; Lavender and Parvati next to her, and even Fay Dunbar, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan from slightly further down the table.

For some reason the concern, on top of everything else made her blood boil. "What a shock!" she snarled. "Veronica Weasley, not eating! Obviously she must be sick, because God knows she always stuffs her face at every meal...!"

"But you do stuff your face at every meal," said Seamus with characteristic tactlessness, only to be slapped by Fay.

"Blimey!" Fred looked shocked. "You haven't decided to get all girly about it and go on a diet you obviously don't need, are you?"

"Is this about that diary thing that weird girl talked about?" said Fay, ignoring the fact that Seamus was glaring at her.

"Leave her alone!" snapped Ginny, the only one who hadn't been looking at Ronnie with concern.

"I'll eat, I'll eat!" Ronnie shouted., beginning to help herself to all the different foods she really didn't want, to make a huge pile on her plate. "I'll eat double helpings since you obviously all get off on watching me shove food into my mouth! Happy now?"

But then she felt bad, especially when seeing the hurt looks all around. They were just worried about her, after all, and they didn't know what had happened. She wanted to tell them everything, about the diary and about... well, everything. But... no. She couldn't, not now.

"Look, I'm sorry," she said in a softer voice. "It's just... complicated. I'm fine, really, I just -" And then she noticed that a note had appeared on the table next to her. Grabbing it, she turned it around to see one short sentence written down on it, in a neat but extravagant handwriting:

The password to my office is 'Liquorice Wand.'
-A.D.

She curled the note up in her hand and felt a strange sense of relief, and curiously enough a sense of gratitude towards Luna, who was sitting at the Hufflepuff table. Dumbledore knew she wanted to talk to him, and was apparently taking it seriously. He'd know what to do.

"Right," she announced to the table at large. "After the feast I'm going to go talk to the Headmaster about diaries!"

A few of the Gryffindors laughed, some of them just looked puzzled.

"Want us to come too?" said Harry. Both he, Hermione and Neville were looking at her with a mix of worry, expectancy and curiosity.

She wanted to say yes. It would be a great comfort to have the rest of Potter's Gang there. But she shook her head. "Better not," she sighed. "Besides, Neville, you've got some stuff to tell Harry, right?"

"Oh - oh, yeah!" said Neville, who seemed to have genuinely forgotten about this in the middle of everything else.

"But maybe Ginny should -" Ronnie began.

"He invited you, not me," said Ginny, and Ronnie knew that there was no arguing with her.

As the meal finished, and the remainders of the puddings and cakes faded from the tables and plates, leaving them sparkling once more (Colin Creevey, who had spent the entire meal chattering non-stop and hardly ever eating for excitement, squeaked in delight and at once asked if he'd learn to do something like that because "I'm always stuck doing the washing-up at home!") Dumbledore raised himself again and called for silence.

"So!" he said. "I hope you've all enjoyed our feast, and I won't keep you long from your dormitories -" (there was some scattered applause and laughter at this) "- but I do have a couple of notices for the year.

"The Forbidden Forest is out of grounds for all students, as is the village of Hogsmeade for those below third year. Our caretaker Mr. Filch would like to remind you all that magic in the corridors is prohibited, as is any item on the list he has in his office. I belive that list numbers about four hundred items now, and any student who wishes to read it for themselves are welcome to do so."

Filch, who was sitting at the edge of the staff table, scowled.

"Also, I would like to officially announce a few staff changes this year," Dumbledore went on. "Since our old Head of Slytherin, Severus Snape, has now officially resigned -" (A huge number of Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws applauded, though the Slytherin table did not join in) "- the new Head of House is our eminent Astronomy teacher, Aurora Sinistra. Any Slytherins who have problems, questions or complaints are encouraged to come to her."

Professor Sinistra gave the students a curt nod. Ronnie hadn't even known the woman was a Slytherin; she'd been stern and strict but not unfair - not the way Snape had been.

"And of course, it gives me great pleasure to welcome our two new teachers," said Dumbledore. "First out is our new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart."

The Great Hall formally exploded in applause, cries of delight (and even a few wolf-whistles, one of them not surprisingly coming from Lavender) as Lockhart rose from his seat and bowed elegantly, all the while smiling with his perfect teeth, clearly enjoying the applause.

"And last, but certainly not least," said Dumbledore as the applause finally died down, "our new Potions master, Nicolas Flamel!"

The old man in the green robes smiled at the students. He didn't get half the amount of applause that Lockhart had, but there were a few gasps and murmurs from some of the students - including Hermione, who grabbed Ronnie's shoulder tightly.

"What?" said Ronnie.

"Nicolas Flamel!" said Hermione. "You don't know who he is?! He's the friend Dumbledore told us about last year! The creator of the Philosopher's Stone! He's over six hundred years old!"

"So.. it was his Stone we protected from You-Know-Who?" said Ronnie, looking at the old man again. He certainly didn't look six hundred years old; if anything he looked slightly younger than Dumbledore.

"It must have been. There is only one Philosopher's Stone in existence, remember? Imagine, Nicolas Flamel..." Hermione sounded awed, though luckily not in the same way she had when speaking about Gilderoy Lockhart. "He must be an absolute marvel at Potions!"


After the announcements were over, and Percy had gone off to guide the first-years to Gryffindor tower, and Hermione had promised to make certain that Crookshanks had made it safely to the Gryffindor tower together with the other pet cats, Ronnie made her solitary way up to the third floor and the stone gargoyle that she knew hid the entrance to the Headmaster's office.

"Liquorice Wand," she said to the gargoyle, which immediately moved aside as the wall behind it split in two and revealed the moving spiral staircase that led to the Headmaster's office.

She stepped onto the rotating staircase and let it carry her all the way to the top, where the familiar oak door with the brass door knocker was waiting for her.

She lifted her hand to knock when she realised voices were sounding from behind the door - one of them very clearly being Dumbledore's, the other one a voice she didn't know.

" - must admit I am rather concerned," Dumbledore was saying. "I still haven't been able to find any plausible reason why the barrier closed for Harry. There was no sign that the magic had faltered. For some reason, someone did not want him on the train. The only question is why..."

"Perhaps they wanted to hinder him entering Hogwarts at all?" said the other voice, which Ronnie thought had a very slight accent... French, maybe?

"Perhaps," said Dumbledore. "But they must have known there were other ways for him to get here. The Knight Bus remained unhindered. I would have suspected Voldemort, but he fled the country after the confrontation last Christmas. Sources tell me he is currently in Albania."

"There are ways of influencing events even when you yourself are far away," said the other voice. "And as you say, the boy now lacks the protection of living with the sister of his mother. While Voldemort is still weak, the boy is also more vulnerable than he might have been. It was a pity you could not have made certain he still lived with his relatives."

"I was too late," said Dumbledore simply. "The protection was broken. Had Harry's relatives truly loved him, raised him as their own, as I hoped they would, it would have been that much stronger. As it was, Mr. Dursley's ultimatum was enough to break the spells beyond any repair." There was a short pause before he continued: "I can't blame Harry for wanting to escape. Nor can I blame the Weasley sisters for wanting to help him do so. They saw a friend in great need and did all they could to help, like the true Gryffindors they are. None of them knew what danger they were putting him in."

Ronnie swallowed. What had seemed like the only thing to do back then now seemed thoughtless and short-sighted. Mum was right, she did always rush ahead without thinking. Then again... she couldn't feel too guilty for getting Harry away from those awful Muggles.

"Because you did not tell them. You did not explain to the boy how important it was that he remained with his relatives, did you?" The possibly-French voice was calm, but gently scolding. "You were hoping for family love, that we now know never existed, to be enough."

"Alas, Nicolas, you know me too well," said Dumbledore.

Nicolas? Oh, of course - Nicolas Flamel!

"I am glad you and Penerelle decided to remain among the living for a while longer," said Dumbledore. "Your advice has always helped me greatly... and I do think that, with Voldemort still out there, the world might still need you."

Nicolas Flamel was silent for a moment. Then he said: "The world will always need us. Always there will be some new catastrophe, some new evil to be defeated, some new problem that needs to be solved. When will it end? When are we allowed to rest?" His voice sounded tired. "My wife and I have lived for over six hundred and sixty years, Albus. We are both weary. More and more often we talk about finally letting ourselves die. Though," (a somewhat weary laughter) "since you have talked me into teaching Potions for you, I suppose death must wait for a while yet."

Ronnie suddenly felt guilty about standing here and eavesdropping. This was definitely something she wasn't meant to hear, something she didn't want to know. Hurriedly, before anyone could say anything more, she knocked loudly on the door to announce her presence.

"Come in!" said Dumbledore, and the door opened to reveal the organized chaos that was the Headmaster's office; most of the available space filled with magical devices and trinkets that nobody except Dumbledore (and possibly not even him) knew the proper use of.

By the large desk sat Dumbledore, and of course Nicolas Flamel, both of them smiling to her as she came inside. Gone were the serious and concerned old men she had heard; what was left was two jovial gentlemen with warm smiles and (in Dumbledore's case) twinkles in their eyes. Ronnie hadn't thought of it before, but - what were teachers like when students couldn't see them? How much of Dumbledore's famous humour and eccentric behaviour was an act? The thought was slightly unsettling.

"Good evening, Ronnie!" said Dumbledore. "Rumour has it that you wanted to talk to me? Oh - do allow me to introduce you. Miss Veronica Weasley, this is my old friend - and your new Potions master - Nicolas Flamel."

Flamel raised himself and bowed to her. "Bonsoir, mademoiselle," he said - and the weariness that Ronnie had heard in his voice just seconds ago had vanished completely. "Am I right when I say that you are that same, brave Veronica Weasley from the Gang of Potter? Who last year fought to protect my Philosopher's Stone from Voldemort?"

"Er - yes, sir." Ronnie felt a little awkward, partly because she had listened in, but also because Flamel seemed to share Dumbledore's lack of restraint in using You-Know-Who's name. "It was the others who fought, really, I didn't do much apart from, you know, getting Imperiused."

"Nonsense! Did you not sic a three-headed dog at that monster? And stomp on his hand to stop him from picking up his wand? Modesty is a wonderful virtue, Mademoiselle Weasley, but you should accept praise, when it is freely offered."

"Right then," said Ronnie, though she didn't quite think that description of events sounded right. It made her sound so... proactive. After a moment's thought, though, she added: "Thank you?"

"So, Ronnie," said Dumbledore. "What is on your mind? Would you prefer to talk under four eyes?"

"I don't really know." Ronnie sat down on an available chair without being invited to do so. "Professor, do you know someone named Tom Riddle?"

She hadn't expected the reaction she got. Dumbledore's eyes widened, and he pushed his half-moon spectacles further up on his hooked nose, while Flamel sat straighter up and stared at her in surprise.

"I haven't heard that name spoken in quite some time," said Dumbledore. "Where did you hear it?"

"So you know who it is?" Ronnie leaned in a little closer.

"Indeed. I know him quite well. You've met the man, in fact." Dumbledore's voice was calm as always, but there was a definite wary look in his blue eyes that might have surprised Ronnie if she hadn't heard him talking to Flamel. "Half a year ago, you and your friends stopped him from getting his hands on the Philosopher's Stone."

Ronnie's heart nearly stopped. It felt like her gut was turning into ice. Just when she'd thought it couldn't get any worse. "Wha- yuh-" she sputtered. "Y-you mean -?"

"'Voldemort' was never his real name. It was a name he took when he started to gather power. I suppose he found it more intimidating than 'Tom Riddle.' Very few people even remember that name now." Dumbledore looked at her seriously. "I think you had better tell me everything about how you came to hear it."


TO BE CONTINUED...


Author's Notes: So now Tom Riddle's identity is known! ...but how much will that help, when we don't know who has the diary now?

Other notes: I know a lot of you were probably expecting to see Slughorn as the new Potions master - and originally, that was the plan, too. But then, as I was planning out this fic in a little more detail, I was thinking about Dumbledore; how he doesn't really have anyone to talk to on an equal level. He's everyone's mentor, the one everyone turns to for answers and solutions, and the few who don't (like Aberforth) have a strained relationship with him at best. He doesn't have anyone to confide in.

But maybe he used to. We just know that Dumbledore and Nicolas Flamel were friends and "partners" (probably not in a sexual way, since Flamel is married), and Flamel, while apparently not quite as powerful as Dumbledore, is one of few characters much, much older than him. It sort of fit that Flamel might be the one character Dumbledore could talk to as a complete equal. And the creator of the Philosopher's Stone has to be great at Potions... and since Voldemort couldn't use the Stone, the incentive to destroy it wouldn't have been as strong. End of the line: Dumbledore invites him to teach Potions, letting Slughorn enjoy his retirement for a bit longer.

And yes, I made Luna a Hufflepuff, partly because I see Luna as someone who could do well in either Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Gryffindor (though she's too fundamentally honest and open for Slytherin) and all other fics I've read where she isn't a Ravenclaw, she's a Gryffindor. There have been enough slight changes in her life that the change was plausible. Don't worry too much, though - in this fic students don't get full personality transplants the moment they are sorted (looking at you, so many Slytherin-Harry fics), so Luna's going to remain her spacey oddball self even if her common room will be different.

And this author's note is no getting ridiculously long, so I think we'll leave off here. See you next chapter!